An Iranian oil tanker was hit by explosions in the Red Sea early Friday, and the state news media reported that the vessel had been hit by missiles that struck its two major tanks, causing oil to spill into the sea and raising fears about increasing tensions in an already volatile and economically crucial region.
The National Iranian Oil Company, which owns the tanker, said the ship had been struck at 5 a.m. and again at 5:20 a.m., state-run news outlets reported, adding that it had suffered damage about 60 miles from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
The crew members were safe and the ship was in stable condition, the state news media reported, even though the hull was damaged. There were conflicting accounts about whether the ship was on fire and whether the oil spill had been stopped.
The price of oil jumped on news of the explosion, as brent crude rose about 2 percent in futures markets.
“Technical experts” were investigating the cause of the explosion, according to the Iranian news media, which added that the ship might have been targeted in a “terrorist attack.”
Iranian state television identified the tanker as the Sabiti. But the ship tracker website Marine Traffic showed that the vessel had not transmitted any location data since mid-August.
The reports of a missile attack will almost certainly ratchet up tensions in the region, where a rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran has been playing out in various ways, including the seizure of a number of oil tankers.
The missile attack had not been independently verified, and the location, in the Red Sea, was unusual, since most of the confrontations involving Iran have taken place in or close to the Persian Gulf.
Lt. Pete Pagano, a spokesman for the United States Navy’s 5th Fleet, said the military was “aware of reports of this incident,” but did not elaborate, The Associated Press reported.
In addition to the tanker seizures, the United States and Iran have shot down each other’s drones. The tensions have escalated to such an extent at certain points that there have been fears of an all-out war in the region, with President Trump at one point calling off airstrikes at the last minute after Iran shot down an American surveillance drone.
Saudi Arabia is backed by the United States, which has been trying to increase pressure on Iran by imposing sanctions and withdrawing from a nuclear agreement that was designed to curb Tehran’s nuclear program.
Two major Saudi oil installations were attacked last month, and the effect was broadly felt across global oil markets. Saudi Arabia supplies about a 10th of the world’s oil, and the kingdom’s ability to produce it was temporarily cut by more than 50 percent.
The Houthi rebels in Yemen, who are fighting the Saudi-backed government in the country’s civil war, claimed credit for that attack, but the United States said that Iran was responsible.
At the time, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that Iran was behind what he called “an unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply,” adding that there was “no evidence the attacks came from Yemen.”
Oil prices have been under pressure, and traders are likely to interpret the news about the stricken Iranian ship as a sign that the long-simmering conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia is potentially escalating.
The long series of episodes involving oil shipping from the Persian Gulf region and American sanctions on a Chinese shipowner have sharply driven up prices for tanker charters.
A senior shipping industry official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to protect his business interests, said that over about the last two months the price of chartering a large crude oil carrier had risen from about $35,000 a day to $170,000.
Stanley Reed, Megan Specia and Kevin Granville contributed reporting.